A SHAMED store manager who squandered bogus lottery refunds to feed her own gambling habit has escaped being sent to prison.

Kezia Hopkinson, 27, from Priest Road, Swanage, admitted the theft of £20,576 from WHSmith PLC while she was running their premises at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital.

Prosecuting at Bournemouth Crown Court, Carolyn Branford-Wood said an investigation had been launched at the store after financial irregularities were detected in February 2010.

She added: “There were high levels of National Lottery pay-outs and a covert camera was installed to cover the tills and office. The footage showed Miss Hopkinson removing money and putting through false lottery refunds or winnings.”

Hopkinson, who denied pocketing the cash until she was shown the incriminating CCTV evidence, was £12,000 in debt.

She told police she had frittered the money away on nights out with friends, splashing out on Champagne and gambling on slot machines, using part of the proceeds to buy a new car. During interview, she added: “It was a habit; I couldn’t help himself.”

In Hopkinson’s defence, the court heard that she was a woman of previous good character and “truly remorseful.”

At the time of the offences, she had been under “immense pressure” to boost sales and been suffering from depression, anxiety and a gambling problem.

Sentencing Hopkinson, Judge Roger Jarvis described the offence as “very serious,” and told Hopkinson: “You were in a position of trust – the money has mainly been squandered.”

He imposed a 40-week prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, with a 12-month supervision requirement and 20-day activity requirement.